In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
Lana Elie had a problem.
The former personal assistant and digital project manager was born in France and has lived in Bali, Australia, the U.S. and the U.K., so she has a lot of friends in a multitude of timezones and they all had birthdays and milestones she wanted to celebrate. But when she wanted to do something as simple as send flowers, she found herself constantly hitting the same wall.
“I would always [have] to wait until weird times to send flowers," Elie told Entrepreneur. "And then over the phone I'm giving this random person my credit card details. And then I'm ordering something for like $70 that I've never seen before."
So she came up with a solution and started Floom, a London-based online marketplace dedicated to connecting customers from all over the U.K. who want unique and seasonal arrangements with local, independent florists who can provide both a bespoke work of art and same-day delivery.
As floristry is an inherently visual medium, it is perhaps unsurprising that the company has gained quite the following on Instagram, gaining more than 29,500 followers since Floom’s launch in 2015.
But Elie says that without Instagram, she’s not sure that she would have the company she does today, thanks to the fans she gained with the platform while tinkering with the idea.
“[It’s] what helped me get my funding in the beginning, because then I had an Instagram account to prove user engagement," she says. "I had 6,000 followers before I launched and those followers were pushing through to an email base. It was a real test of the content were making.”
Entrepreneur spoke with Elie about Instagram and how it helped her grow her brand.
How did you get your start with Instagram?
When I started Floom, it was actually how we started the business. Six months before we had a name or anything, it was an Instagram account and it was just a test of what people reacted to and what users were interested in. [It was] the way to push to a landing page even though we didn't know yet what the business was. It started out with lifestyle and inspirational images and then it moved into this seasonality aspect. I ended up taking my own pictures of a flower a day.
I showcased that flower in particular because it was in season, and the whole concept was always bringing attention to the seasonality of flowers and not just buying roses or lilies all year round. It was a picture I took in my living room, dropped an Instagram filter on it and then talked about how it was named or what it represents or different use cases for it. And that's what really picked up. Instagram and the seasonality and heritage of flowers is in our core identity [as a business].
What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
We use our magazine and blogging elements, we use Facebook, we use Twitter. I use LinkedIn a little bit. I think 80 percent of the time spent on social media goes into Instagram. The majority of what we produce is for Instagram. It's what we put the most curation into and it always starts there. It used to be that you would make a blog post and then it would disseminate into the different social platforms. Now it seems like we make an Instagram post and then that disseminates to different social platforms.
What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
The Instagram community is what helped me build this brand. The whole business is built around the difficulty of finding a good independent florist because they can't compete when it comes to good websites or good photography or SEO. So you do a Google search and you get all of the paid ads vs. actually finding really amazing florists within a given area.
When I was searching for who I wanted on the site, I went through the same issue. I was like, how can I find these people? What I was able to do through Instagram was I actually built a list of my favorite florists from finding somebody, following them on Instagram, and then you see that little drop down that allows the algorithm to tell you users that are similar. Then someone on the team actually had to go through Instagram and all the people I'd followed and actually reach out to them.
How much of your time do you devote to it?
I would say that I devote more time than I should, just because there's a business to run. But I talk about it every day, the last Instagram post or the copy that was affiliated with it or what we can do better in terms of storytelling on it. I don't know how to actually put it into a percentage. I think if I even said like 50 percent of my time, everybody would roll their eyes at me. It's definitely more than that. But I also don't want my investors to think that I don't run my business.
How do you promote your account? What's your number one way to gain followers?
We do a lot of competition partnerships with other accounts that we think have unique offerings and work well with us. Users can follow us to win something. We also make sure all our content is produced in-house. A lot of the time with our flower of the week it becomes quite educational and quite fun to engage with.
With Instagram stories we'll open it up and make it kind of playful, talk about how it was named, things like that. I think that shareability allows other people to promote us. And also the simplicity of our images. We also make our assets for our florists. Like, if you want to share our Instagram account, you can use this video.
How do you engage with others on the platform?
We try to open up a lot of conversation. We always ask people if they know what a flower is. We're very question-based. I probably do a lot less than I used to, but it's also when florists that we want don't respond to emails, we just go straight to Instagram because we know that's what they're going to be checking. A lot of our outreach to new florists is through Instagram messages.
How often do you post?
Three to four times a day. Then we probably do a story or two a day as well. An average of three or four stories a week.
What's your content strategy?
We partner with so many unique florists that everything we do is talking about their identity and why we showcase them and why they became florists. You know, why they use only British-grown flowers or why they use specific varieties instead of maybe using more popular varieties. Every time we sign someone up, we get given quite a lot of content and because I come from a content background, it's always been content first.
Our florists have their own page where we photograph them and we can talk about their favorite flowers. It's such a beautiful art that that our strategy was almost made for us before we even started. We can't keep up with the amount of beautiful visual content that we actually have to showcase.
How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
We’ve become a little less precious about what we post. We’re slowly opening up and realizing, you know what, [with Stories] this is only up there for 24 hours. It's such a great opportunity for us to hand over the account to one of our florists so you can get a feel of what it's like to be in their life for a day. It really gives us the opportunity to talk more about them and their stories and let them go with it without having it affect the visual identity of the brand when you look at the account. But also the business and analytics tools for us have completely changed the understanding of the kind of content that we make across the board.
What's your best storytelling trick?
I think ours is putting a bunch of stories together so that you can kind of keep tapping it and things appear. We do that with flower of the week -- it kind of unravels into this longer story with a little animating things [popping up] and going through a bunch of still images. If we have the ability to link to something, we'll put [an image] and lay some text over it and say swipe up to link. Being able to tell one story but through several different images is what we're really good at.
How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
Normally flowers have been in a bit of an archaic space. It's only quite recently that they've been considered more of a lifestyle commodity. Plants are something that you want to surround yourself with all the time, whereas before, everything was shot like on a hamper in your grandmother's bedroom. Other brands are doing it now as well which is great, but it's the exploration into the uniqueness and the architecture of the flower itself, and looking at the details and trying to bring these details into our design.
I think our visual identity is a little more techie and a little more playful. It's definitely catered to a different audience than flowers have been catered to before. There's a generation gap where people really cared about flowers and suddenly nobody did. And now we have the tools to make the content to bring that kind of love for flowers back. We have florists that have stories to tell. So instead of just us needing to tell our story, we have almost 60 florists who all have their own incredible stories. So having that really sets us apart.
How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
We have a platform where florists can upload their own products to the back-end and then they only deliver to specific postcodes. They're constantly changing. Whereas in other platforms it's kind of like this is the bouquet that's going to be here all year. We show a lot of product on Instagram. And that's because it's so seasonal, to remind people that every time they come back there's always something new. If we had an ugly product it would probably be a different conversation, but it's a beautiful bouquet on with these incredible flowers that we can tell stories about. [But our product] is our best content luckily.
What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands on the platform?
Use it as a testing base before building too much of anything else. That's what helped me get my funding in the beginning, because then I had an Instagram account to prove user engagement. I had 6,000 followers before I launched and those followers were pushing through to an email base. It was a real test of the content we were making. We could post something and it could be completely flawed or we would regram something and it would just go absolutely mental. Then we were like, "Oh, maybe we should produce our own ice cubes with flower petals in it."
I would say don't be afraid to start out and not be so precious about it. When you're building a brand you want everything to be perfect. But most of the stuff that I built in the beginning has nothing to do with the brand now.
What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
It doesn't have to be perfect. [The missteps] helped us understand what our brand needed to be and who our users were and how they engaged with us, and what they liked and what they didn't. So I think the misconception is that people need to go in there and know exactly what they're doing already.